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When is it Correct to Use Who’s vs. Whom?

Whom functions as a sentence object, whereas who's is a contraction of who and is.



Who’s vs. whom: what’s the difference?

Learn the correct usage of who‘s vs whom, and never get them mixed up again. The difference between whom and who: whom functions as an object of a sentence, whereas who is a subject. To know which word to use when, think about if the question asks, “Who is the doer of the action?” For example:

  • Who is going to the party? 
  • Who did she bring?
  • Who’ll feed the dog while we’re away?
  • Who broke the vase?

Who and whom are both relative pronouns. Who is also often used as an interrogative pronoun, which helps to identify the person or people referenced in the sentence (or in conversation.)  As the sentence examples above show, each one asks to identify the person or people doing some action. Since the questions ask about the actor in a sentence, the relative pronoun who is the correct word choice.

A trick to remember!

Another trick to remember when to use who vs whom  is to see if who can be replaced with a subject pronoun or an object pronoun. Subject pronouns are he, she, it, they and so on. Object pronouns include him, her, it, us, and them. See the examples:

Who ate the last slice of cake?

He ate the last slice of cake. (correct)

Him ate the last cookie. (incorrect)

For whom did you knit the sweater?

I knitted the sweater for him. (correct)

I knitted the sweater for he. (incorrect)

Subject vs object

Whom functions as an object in a sentence, and is the object form of the relative pronoun who. Objects receive the action of the sentence. This is how to identify which part of the sentence is the object—to see whether it receives the action of the verb:

Sarah ate cake 

Sarah = Subject;

Ate = verb,

Cake = object.

The object in the example sentence, cake, receives the subject’s action/verb; which, in this case is to be eaten by Sarah. This is how we know it is the object of the sentence, it receives the action of the sentence or clause. Identifying the syntax of sentences is tricky. The important point to remember is that in debating when to use who vs whom: whom acts as a sentence object, whereas who is in the subject case.

Another thing to keep in mind is whom uses the passive voice. Generally speaking, in writing and conversation, it’s recommended to write using the active voice because it’s easier to follow than writing in the passive voice.  If you’re interested to learn more about active vs. passive voice, you can here.

What are relative pronouns?

Relative pronouns connect other parts of a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun in a relative clause. Relative clauses always start with a relative pronoun, and are a kind of dependent sentence that cannot stand alone. These clauses are also sometimes called adjective clauses because they give more information on nouns.

The most common relative clauses are who, whom, whose, which, and that. When and where are sometimes used as relative pronouns, though not always. A way to remember this is that when relative pronouns appear in writing or speech, they relate to the noun by clearly demonstrating that the information corresponds with the noun of that sentence. See the following sentence as an example:

It was my son who broke the car door.

It was my son (noun), who (relative pronoun), broke the car door (relative clause). The relative clause in the example sentence is ‘who broke the car door.’  First note that it’s a dependent clause and is therefore unable to stand on its own (it does not express a complete thought). Here, the relative pronoun who works to connect the information that follows the relative pronoun with the noun (son) in the sentence.

Examples of who used in sentences

1. Who gave it to her?

2. Are you going to tell me who she is?

3. After all, who knows? 

4. The only person who should be looking at it is my husband. 

5. Who is paying for this?

6. Brittany was the girl who left him standing at the altar. 

7. One day a friend of his, who lives in England, came to visit.

8. Carmen shot a glance at Alex, who was giving his meal undue attention.

9. When I learned that there was a gift for each child, I was delighted, and the kind people who had prepared the tree permitted me to hand the presents to the children.

10. Just then Dorothy, who had risen early and heard the voices of the animals, ran out to greet her old friends.

Examples of whom used in sentences

1. Many people dislike the new chairman whom we have elected. 

2. He saw a gentleman whom he presumed to be the director, and told him about Helen. 

3. To whom did you apply?

4. Here dwells an old man with whom I would like to converse.

5. She saw the kind faces of those whom she loved.

6. He said, “They are mine, they are personal and I will choose with whom to share them.”

7. With whom am I speaking?

8.The people whom they met gazed at them and wondered who they could be.

9. Everybody is wondering to whom the count will leave his fortune, though he may perhaps outlive us all, as I sincerely hope he will…

10. Excited and irritated by these thoughts Prince Andrew went toward his room to write to his father, to whom he wrote every day.



Keep on learning!

In review: who vs. whom

Grammar rule:  Whom is the object case, and who is the subject case. Both are relative pronouns which are used in relative clauses/adjective clauses.

Sources

  1. Parts of a sentence analyzer
  2. Relative clauses
  3. Dependent clause
  4. Relative pronoun
  5. Etymology of who/whom
  6. Example sentences of whom
  7. Example sentences of who


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